"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door" … "You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to."
~ Bilbo Baggins from The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkein

Thursday, April 30, 2015

My Love Affair with the Bicycle

Our 2014 steel SEVEN bicycles loaded with gear posing in the dune grass of Gilson Park
[Note to reader: I fully intended this post to be about the equipment we'll use on our ride around The Lake. Instead it turned into a musing on my love affair with bikes. Now I understand how mystery writers feel when their characters take over the plot. Some day I hope to get back to the topic of equipment. For now you're stuck with this.]

I must confess, I LOVE bikes as well as maps. That, I suppose, is a good thing when you dream of being a bicycle tourist. Loving bikes also means KNOWING bikes, understanding how and why they work, always wanting to know more. Now, don't get me wrong, I am not a techno-freak about most things. Won't spend hours and hours researching the ins and outs of computers, or cars or even programable calculators (sorry inside joke). For most equipment in my life I'm perfectly content assuming that its going to function or calling in the experts when it doesn't. There is no urge within me to actually understand the inner workings or the mind of the inanimate objects in my life - EXCEPT when it comes to bicycles.

An Affair Begun Decades Ago

My 1980 Proteus - now red and decked out for our
2014 self-supported ride to Door County
Last night I was thinking back - when exactly did this bike love affair begin? Sure, I had bikes as a kid. Even earned the money for my own Schwinn sometime in late grade school. In 1973  along with just about everyone else I got my first 10-speed, a "serious" bike for "serious" riding. But, I think I didn't REALLY start being interested in the workings of bikes until I bought my first custom designed Proteus in 1980. It was then, when I had to pick out every piece of the machine from the type of steel to the lugs, the bottom bracket, the drop outs, the cables, the breaks, derailleurs, chain, gears as well as the blue paint, that I began this now decades-long love affair with the bike. Robert Penn's recent book, It's All About the Bike, The Pursuit of Happiness on Two Wheels, captures my love affair with bikes as well as his own. In it he explores the history, lore and culture of the bike as well as its technology. To him its clear, the two parts, the technical and cultural are inextricably intertwined. And that's how I feel. To understand a bike is to understand the whole sweep of its history, human as well as machine.

Simple and Complex at the Same Time

I also love bikes because of the yin and yang of their simultaneous simplicity and complexity. Bikes are simple say when compared to cars. A few parts, a human motor and you're off. Put in enough fuel in the form of food and water and you can go for days. Yet, on closer inspection bikes are ever so complex. As I'm fond of saying, they're a game of millimeters. The smallest adjustment changes everything. Move your saddle up a smidge and your back hurts; your handle bars forward and the pain stops. Make a small adjustment to a spoke or two and a wobbly wheel come true. Understanding all this can take a life time and consume endless hours of conversation over coffee or beer. Tinkering becomes the past time of the real enthusiast.

And that's how someone like me, who's passionate about human history and culture gets sucked into the science of ball bearings. You never know Frodo where that road is going to take you.


  1. It's traditional to list gear and bike spec's for a long ride like you and Will are undertaking. I hope you add this in another post. One always learns from reading what others take (and don't take). Thanks!

  2. Have been trying to get around to these details. Other stuff just seems to jump up first. Goin' with the flow here